Self-esteem can be fed from the unlikeliest sources. Try this: empathy. Sounds odd? Here's how.
Empathy is a misunderstood word. It's not about sympathy. It's about being able to see and feel from another person's perspective. And there are two different forms of empathy: cognitive and emotional (affective). And it is a truly life-changing skill. Not an exaggeration. Here's why.
When I'm a child in the playground or an employee at work, if I habitually see my peers as their own people, with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, their own issues and problems, then the world doesn't revolve around me. And if the world doesn't revolve around me then what others do or say to me is not automatically about me. I am far more capable of seeing it in perspective. If I've practiced seeing the people around me as equally preoccupied with their own lives as I am my own, then what I'm not doing is viewing myself as the centre of the circle and everyone else in relation to me. This balanced perspective is the foundation for cognitive empathy.
And if I have empathy for the feelings of others - if I take notice of not only my own emotional responses to events but also those of others - then I become more and more convinced that others struggle with the same emotional battles that I do. It's not just me who feels the need for acceptance by others - they have the same need too. Now I have emotional empathy.
So when something happens that makes me question whether I am liked or whether I am smart, I have a much healthier perspective that can help produce a much healthier (and realistic) interpretation. When another kid shuns me or I get the answer wrong in class, I am far less likely to respond by thinking that it's all about me, and question my worth.
Is empathy alone enough to produce healthy self-esteem? Of course not. But it's a significant contributor.